by Joyce Brusin
X Out of Wonderland: A Saga
by David Allan Cates ’79, M.F.A. ’92
Hanover, NH: Steerforth Press, 2005, 141 pp., $17.95
Satire can be heartfelt, and this slim modern saga descended from Lewis Carroll and Jonathan Swift, among others, speaks as kindly as it does bitingly about the cruel vagaries that bedevil the lives of the residents of Wonderland, a country eerily reminiscent of our own. “X” is a young college-educated and gainfully employed man of indeterminate age, possessed of a solidly built house and a rea- sonably happy job as a public radio host and homebuilding consultant. His adventures in Wonderland begin when he is unexpectedly laid off from his job because a large retail homebuilding center has taken over sponsorship of his radio program. A tornado levels his home just as he is beginning to deal with his loss. When X goes to file a homeowner’s claim, he finds his insurance company had declared bankruptcy some days before. He falls, suddenly and very deeply, into the landscape of Wonderland’s dispossessed.
As he spends the next years wandering, X encounters various manifestations of the global free market, a place so revered by X’s college economics professors that one of them considered it to be divinely inspired. One of many memorable passages in the book is X’s visit to the largest of these marketplaces in a chapter titled “The free market as a big fat sow.”
He strode confidently down the street and entered into the mass of humanity and commodities. He passed huge piles of melons and apples and grapes, and barrels of rice and corn and beans and coffee…. He passed recreational, miracle, and dangerous drugs, booths selling land lots and land rights, and rights-of-way, easements, and ease…. He passed people selling memoirs and the rights to publish memoirs …hammocks, baskets of frog legs, butterflies, and flowers. He passed blessings for sale, curses for sale, and a man waving a smoking ball on a chain selling forgiveness…
X travels and lives with an assortment of companions—“the malformed boy,” “the lady in pink lamé,” and his mysterious love object, C. They appear and reappear, age and convalesce, as X wanders the globe and finally returns to his native country. Along the way he encounters jailers, factory owners, storytellers, and sailors. He survives encounters remarkable for their cruelty, yet meets up with nothing that can destroy his essential self. X is a pilgrim of the Common Era. He’s awash in the flotsam of greed, but faithfully continues to ply whatever trade will let him live.
Into Brown Bear Country
by Will Troyer, M.S. ’62
Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press, 2005, 130 pp., $24.95
When wildlife biologist Will Troyer moved to Alaska in the mid-1950s and began studying the brown bears that inhabit the state’s southern islands and coastal regions, he knew he had to find a way to examine one up close. At the time, techniques for trapping and studying bears were just evolving. When Troyer and his colleagues succeeded in finally trapping their first bears, there were no modern drugs to immobilize and subdue them. They used ether-soaked rags to put the bears under, and sometimes nearly subdued themselves. There were no radio collars either; upon release, Troyer’s bears were outfitted with colored ear tags so they could be recognized at a distance.
In the years that followed, Troyer succeeded in learning how bears lived, ate, raised their young, and survived incursions of humanity and development into their native territories. This soft-cover book—beautifully illustrated with photos of bears encountered in the field—is meant to introduce brown bears and their country to readers who may know little about either. Short, engagingly written chapters portray the habits, beauty, and uniqueness of individual bears in the wild. Most memorable is the chapter titled “Play and Perceptions,” where Troyer recounts mothers and cubs, siblings, and other bear families he observed at play.
In the book’s opening pages, Troyer describes a hike toward the headwaters of the Sturgeon River, during which he encounters a solitary brown bear splashing and chasing salmon midstream. Later, from atop a ridge he
… spotted six more bears chasing salmon and a family of three descending a mountain. On a small knoll across the river, a female brown bear lay on her back as her three cubs suckled contentedly. Bald eagles and gulls wheeled in the sky. It was the wild, primordial scene I had dreamt about in my youth. I was alone, but far from lonely, in this breathtakingly vast wilderness.
Troyer later explains that despite the frequent images we see of bears fishing Alaskan rivers for salmon, the state’s brown bears eat salmon only during certain seasons; the rest of the year finds them pursuing a varied diet along Alaska’s coast.
Like its inland cousin the grizzly, the Alaskan brown bear is wrapped in a mystique all its own. Troyer brings both poetry and science to these memorable stories of the creatures he finally saw up close.
Boomtown Saloons: Archaeology and History in Virginia City
by Kelly J. Dixon
Reno and Las Vegas: University of Nevada Press, 2005, 219 pp., $34.95
In films and folklore, western saloons have long been portrayed as mythic battlegrounds of good and evil, alive at all hours with music and raucous entertainment, through whose swinging doors all manner of humanity entered, and sometimes unceremoniously exited. Saloons were also eager depositories for the profits of busy miners; most served food, offered games of chance, and provided a gathering spot for the new residents of hastily built boomtowns across the mining West.
In the mid-1990s, archeologists began diggin beneath the twentieth century surface of Virginia City, Nevada. In sites once occupied by the city’s busiest saloons, they unearthed deposits of bottles, animal bones, coins, fixtures, eating utensils, dishes, and other detritus of daily life. Through observation, deduction, and historical records, Kelly Dixon, UM assistant professor of anthropology, and her archeologist colleagues were able to literally piece together the everyday concerns and habits of urban Americans on the western frontier.
Dixon discusses four of these saloon excavations, including those of O’Brien’s and Costello’s Saloon and Shooting Gallery, a predominantly Irish enterprise, and the Boston Saloon, a popular spot owned and operated by African-Americans. She also discusses excavations of Piper’s Old Corner Bar, located below Virginia City’s Opera House, and the Hibernia Brewery, perhaps intended for the relaxation of slightly poorer Irish gentlemen.
While examining the wide assortment of artifacts they unearthed, archeologists found a way for modern science to help flesh out the anonymities of history. They arranged for DNA analysis of a 125-year-old tobacco pipe stem found in the Boston Saloon. When analysis was completed the pipe’s smoker was revealed to have been a woman. “Artifacts have a unique way of creating a tangible connection with the past,” writes Dixon, “and biological remains on those artifacts help us actually make contact with the people who last touched them, demonstrating how hard science can be integrated with the ‘humanistic science’ of historical archaeology.”
by Steve Sherwood, M.F.A. ’87
Huntsville: Texas Review Press, 2004, 214 pp., $16.95
Peter Hoback is a newspaper reporter in Hardwater, Wyoming, the sort of town where tourists hurrying up the highway to Yellowstone National Park usually don’t linger long: not much in Hardwater but abandoned uranium mines and a stalemate between townspeople and local tribal members on the nearby reservation. Peter Hoback’s most recent troubles begin when a mysterious backwoodsman named Cougar arrives at his office one Sunday.
Offered a lead on an intriguing story, Hoback can’t resist investigating. The story that follows is replete with modern plot details—stolen yellow-cake uranium, radiation-caused cancer deaths, and contested water rights. Among the characters is an age-old concern for legacy. What legacy have the town’s former miners left their children? What has been passed down to the grand- children of legendary chiefs and medicine men? And what kind of life will Hoback manage to create for his motherless young son, Bart?
“Hardwater smelled of sage and diesel and frying bacon,” writes Sherwood. “A northwest wind whirled the dust an optimistic merchant swept off the sidewalk.” Behind this weathered façade, Hardwater is home to its share of seekers, among them Hoback’s trucker girlfriend, Goldie; a gifted Shoshone shaman who wanders the reservation with a companion wolf; and Hoback’s newsroom colleague Bob Fortenberry, a Yale graduate and Hardwater native who has been drawn back to town for unknown reasons.
Introduced to a maze of underground mines and twisted thoughts, Hoback must find a way out before he loses all that he had managed to salvage of his life.
By Karen J. Coates ’93
Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2005, 382 pp., $39.95
An impressive book, this work examines Cambodia in the aftermath of genocide and civil war and is one of a few
publications to focus on life in Cambodia today.
On the Trail of Lewis and Clark
By Bill Yenne ’71,
St. Paul, MN: MBI Publishing, 2005, 192 pp., $29.95
A combination of
modern travel narrative and historical perspective, this beautifully-illustrated book takes the reader along the route of the Corps of Discovery, providing an overview of Lewis and Clark history while listing historical and tourist sites for travelers.
Darkest Before Dawn
By Clemens P. Work
Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2005, 316 pp. $34.95
This study chronicles Montana’s persecution of German “sympathizers” as U.S. patriotism devolves into citizen hysteria and government repression during the First World War. UM journalism Professor Clem Work uses the microcosm of Montana to speculate on how freedom of speech can become endangered during war.
By Don Read
Stevensville: Stoneydale Press, 2005, 192 pp., $18.95
Montana’s most successful football coach has stories to tell about his four decades coaching teams in Oregon, California, and Montana—many of them humorous, some serious, all of them about bringing the best out of young men on and off the football field.
Eat Our Words
Montana Writers’ Cookbook
Compiled by Montana Center for the Book
Helena: Farcountry Press, 2005, 176 pp. $19.95
Ninety-two Montana writers share favorite recipes and the memories that go with them in this book that celebrates a big country, with equally large hearts and appetites.
Another Attempt at Rescue
By M.L. Smoker, M.F.A. ’03
Brooklyn, NY: Hanging Loose Press, 2005, 64 pp., $14
This first collection of poetry by M.L. Smoker includes poems written close to the bone—of family, place, ancestry, and landscape’s way of shaping and defining us.
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